Shortlisted for the Accademia Apulia Award

The Quirang, Skye – Digital print (2010)

I don’t enter many photographic awards or competitions as I tend not to hold much interest in the format, don’t want to submit my best landscape/B&W shot to magazines, or have no interest in my work being judged by people who I don’t think have the relevant experience.

While I’m not opposed to having people share their opinions on my work – indeed I actively encourage it, there are far too many of these ‘events’, many of which seem to be cynical money making ventures set up to exploit naive photographers.

Once every so often however I will come across a competition which genuinely captures my attention, primarily by posing an interesting question or challenge. This happened earlier this year with the Renaissance Art Prize which asked the photographer to respond to a selection of quotations from Sontag and Barthes, about the nature of photography. I knew that even if I wasn’t short-listed it would cause me to think in a more considered way about my own practice, and that I could only benefit personally whatever the outcome from the judges.

I have just been short-listed in a similarly thought provoking competition, the Accademia Apulia Art Award 2010, hosted by Accademia Apulia – a London based organisation which encourages the promotion of cross cultural exchanges. The theme of this year’s competition is ‘Genius Loci‘ (the spirit of place), and how this is represented through images of cultural diversity.

For the last several years my own explorations into identity with the ‘Sonnets’ series of images have been concerned with how best to depict a spirit of place, how we as Scots represent ourselves as a people, or imagine ourselves to be represented.  This process looked at a long visual and written heritage, and questioned some of our own myth making practices, especially in regards to the history of Scotland itself. I have however covered these issues in previous entries, and want to instead turn my attention to the issue of ‘cultural diversity’ in my work.

When I made the decision to embark on the Sonnets project I actively considered the role of the figure in the landscape. I experimented with different models, including my wife (amongst others) who were all happy to stand in for Henning, however I eventually decided that I wanted to maintain a certain element of repetition and continuity with the series, so instead returned to my original choice.

Internally I debated that for a contemporary photographic series I should use a variety of different people from all walks of life, of all colours and creeds, so that I could create an honest and representative depiction and celebration of the people who make up this country.

I quickly changed my mind however, as this approach has been done ad-nauseum. Instead, I opted for a more subtle usage of imagery,  that didn’t call to mind the work of a National Geographic photographer, or a sub-standard United Colours of Benetton advert, because cultural diversity is not exclusively about race, and Europeans are equally culturally diverse.

The issues of culture and identity are complicated at the best of times, however I consciously decided  not to put the onus on race, and tried my best to make the identity and many other characteristics of the figure ambiguous, leaving the viewer to concentrate on the location, or trying to interpret why he was there –  to try and understand the image as a ‘fragment of a larger narrative’ as the author W.G Sebald would put it. I wanted the viewer – whatever their background, to place themselves in the image, using the figure as a surrogate. To an extent this has been successful, and I’ve received many correspondences in which people construct their own stories of what the figure is running from, or to – or what he is contemplating as he stands alone.

View of Loch Lomond - John Knox (1778-1845)

View of Loch Lomond – John Knox (1778-1845)

The imagery of the Sonnets series of course calls to mind the work of 18th and 19th century romantic European painting (and its modern day derivatives) from works such as ‘View of Loch Lomond’ by John Knox (pictured above) who painted scenes of a ‘mysterious’ and ‘sublime’ Scottish countryside populated with sparse figures, intended for a privileged audience. These images, much like those of Caspar David Friedrich, almost exclusively portray white, Northern European males,  and are as interesting in their absences as to what does appear in the final image. In this respect I wanted to parody contemporary artworks as much as draw attention to this imbalance, however it’s a subtle point, and regardless of how the image is viewed, there are many possible interpretations on how to view the series.

I’m currently short-listed for the Accademia Apulia 2010 Art Award along with 25 other photographers for ‘Outstanding work’ with the 3 finalists being announced at the start of December.

You can learn more about the award and see the names of the other photographers here


About Alex Boyd

A photographer, curator, and mountain obsessive.

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  1. Finalist for Accademia Apulia Award « Alex Boyd Photography - 2 December, 2010

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